Tagore experts, politicians hit out at Kalyan Singh for national anthem remarks

Kolkata: Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh on Wednesday drew flak from Tagore experts, constitutional figures, academicians and politicians for seeking an amendment in the national anthem "Jana Gana Mana".

While Singh's Tripura counterpart Tathagata Roy chose micro-blogging site Twitter to assert that there was no such need, two former vice-chancellors of Rabindra Bharati University named after the bard lashed out against the Rajasthan governor calling him "ignorant" about both the anthem and Tagore.

Addressing the convocation ceremony of Rajasthan University, Kalyan Singh on Tuesday said he respected Tagore but called for dropping the word "aadhinayak" as it signified the British empire. Roy, a BJP leader from West Bengal, asserted: "It has been 67 years since independence. Why should our adhinayak be the British? I don't think it is right to make any change in the national anthem."


Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh with Minister of Higher Education Kali Charan Saraf and Minister Education Vasudev Devnani during the 26th Convocation at Rajasthan University in Jaipur on Tuesday. Pic/PTI

Former RBU VC Subhankar Chakraborty said: "I am shocked and ashamed at Kalyan Singh's comments. If he had the minimum knowledge about Tagore, or the song, he would not have uttered what he said. In the song, the people are the adhinayaka - the king of kings. "Such was Tagore's faith in the people, that once when he was asked who he considered the best king of Europe, he replied, 'the people'," Chakrabort, who has authored a book on Tagore, told IANS.

Academician and Tagore expert Pabitra Sarkar also assailed Singh. "His comments smack of ignorance, lack of education. He does not know when and in what context the song was written. Leave aside Bengali writers, even Irish literary figure W.B. Yeats and American poet-critic Ezra Pound have clearly stated that the song is not an eulogy to British rulers," Sarkar, also an former vice chancellor of RBU, told IANS.

Sarkar said Tagore in the poem spoke about the eternal Indian spirit, the "mono adhinayaka" (the supreme inner spirit). "Had Kalyan Singh read the remaining verses of the poem he would have desisted from making his laughable and deplorable observations."

Both the Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Communist Party of India also assailed Kalyan Singh. While CPI-M leader Brinda Karat accused him of speaking like an "RSS pracharak", D. Raja of the CPI accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of "attempting to destroy the country's secular democratic fabric".

First sung by a choir in 1911 in the 26th session of the Indian National Congress at the city's Greer Park, "Jana Gana Mana" was composed and set to tune by Tagore - the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913- days after the British government annulled the partition of Bengal.

Independent India's constituent assembly adopted the first stanza of Brahmo hymn as the national anthem on Jan 24, 1950, after an intense debate that saw Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay's "Vande Mataram" lose out narrowly following objections, particularly from Muslims.

However, Singh is not the first person to express misgivings about the song. Critics had opposed making it India's national anthem, claiming it was written as an eulogy to King George V, as its composition coincided with the Coronation durbar of the British emperor in New Delhi.

In 1937, Tagore in a letter admitted that one of his pro-establishment friends had requested him to write a paean for the emperor. "I was stunned at that, and also angered. As a result of this catastrophic reaction, I have declared the victory of the dispenser of India's destiny in the Jana Gana Mana song."

"That great charioteer of human destiny cannot, by any means, be fifth or sixth, or any George," said Tagore who holds the unique distinction of having composed the national anthems of two countries - India and Bangladesh.

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